Movie Diary 11/18/2018

I spent eight days in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on the FIPRESCI jury for the Ljubljana Film Festival, and fell behind in posting. I shall try to catch up over the next few days!

Styx (Wolfgang Fischer, 2018). Our jury gave its prize to this gripping film, featuring a tour-de-force performance by Susanne Wolff as a doctor alone on her sailboat who encounters a migrant vessel. What follows is a genuinely complex challenge for viewers, and a very physical piece of filmmaking.

The Heiresses (Marcelo Martinessi, 2018). Chilean film about two longtime companions (Ana Brun, Margarita Irun) who face financial ruin in a crumbling mansion at the same time the more practical of the two is sent to jail for minor infractions. Droll and atmospheric – like a lightweight version of a Lucrecia Martel film – and the performances are splendid.

Hannah (Andrea Pallaoro, 2017). Charlotte Rampling is front and center in another story about a woman facing life when her spouse (André Wilms) is imprisoned. You can see what Pallaoro is going for here, but the reliance on a slooooww dribble of information comes a little close to hewing to arthouse conventions.

Secret Ingredient (Gjorce Stavreski, 2018). From Macedonia, a crowd-pleasing tale of a mechanic (Blagoj Veselinov, a Balkan Everyman) who stumbles across a hidden stash of drugs and feeds his father marijuana cake – thus becoming a local healer with secret powers. It’s a formula picture but cleanly executed, with the expected layer of social criticism (why is the health care system so messed up?) included.

The Guilty (Gustav Möller, 2018). The gimmick is that an entire kidnapping drama is played out by focusing on a call-taker at the emergency hotline office – we never leave his desk. What gives the premise grit is that the man (Jakob Cedergren) has his own screwed-up, not very admirable drama going on; he’s a detective who’s been busted down to desk duty during an investigation into his own behavior. An ingenious stunt, with a couple of terrific “gotcha” moments.

The Load (Ognjen Glavonic, 2018). During the Balkan war in 1999, a truck driver takes a no-questions-asked contract to transport a load from Kosovo to Belgrade; it doesn’t take long to guess that the cargo is probably human. In some ways this film is miserabilistic to a fault, but its style eventually justifies the grim subject. It’s like a Kiarostami take on The Wages of Fear, carried by Leon Lucev’s grungy lead performance.

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Scruggs, Widows, Beasts (This Week’s Movies)

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Tim Blake Nelson: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (courtesy Netflix)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. “It’s like a beautifully embroidered needlework laid across a gravesite.” (Herald link here.)

Widows. “tries to be a lot of different things: heist thriller, feminist statement, social-issue diagnosis. That’s a lot to bite off, and 129 minutes isn’t enough time for proper chewing.” (Weekly link here.)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. (Not yet posted)

Parallax View continues looking at films and reviews from 1998, including my piece on Richard Kiwetnioski’s Love and Death on Long Island. Not a great review on my part, but a somewhat forgotten movie worth remembering.

A Seasoned Ticket offering for Scarecrow Video’s blog, this time a couple of reviews of two smallish Frederick Wiseman films, La danse and Boxing Gym. Read it here.

 

King Outlaw (This Week’s Movies)

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Chris Pine, Florence Pugh: Outlaw King (courtesy Netflix)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Outlaw King. “Operates in a glum, skeptical key.” (Herald link here.)

In a Seasoned Ticket contribution to the Scarecrow Video blog, I revive an introduction I once gave to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, especially the way the movie fits into the idea of Jarmusch’s generation reacting to the “old, weird America.” Read it here.

 

Movie Diary 11/6/2018

unearthlystrangerUnearthly Stranger (John Krish, 1963). British sci-fi thriller, with a breathless opening seemingly inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers: a scientist (John Neville, Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen) rushes across London to tell his story into a dictaphone, a warning to the rest of the world. He’s working on a project to astral-project human intelligence into different parts of the galaxy. The movie is remarkable for consistently choosing scenes and dialogue that feel exactly wrong for the storytelling; the script keeps flopping from one inert scene to the next. There are some effective touches: Neville noticing that his new bride (Gabriella Lucidi) never blinks, and his colleague (Kubrick regular Philip Stone, the immortal Delbert Grady from The Shining) spotting her picking up a red-hot casserole without bothering to slip on the oven mitts. From the screenwriter of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. With Jean Smart and Patrick Newell (“Mother” from The Avengers). A maddening film, because the elements are there for a perfectly fine genre picture.

Movie Diary 11/5/2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2018). Multi-episode Western. The film is kind of amazing, and mostly about storytelling and show business, but about everything else, too. Let us say it is a movie about its times. Considering the occasional criticism of the Coen brothers’ alleged interest in human beings, one of the things that’s most striking about this movie is the people onscreen – not just well-known actors such as Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, or Zoe Kazan, but remarkable turns by Bill Heck, Chelcie Ross, Grainger Hines, and Harry Melling, among others. A lush physical production, as expected. It’s a little like Mad magazine’s “Scenes We’d Like to See” crossed with Michael Haneke.

Movie Diary 11/4/2018

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (Alexis Bloom, 2018). The life of the terrible human being who started Fox News, told in clear, lucid style. The film doesn’t have to try very hard to make the case that what Ailes did changed America for the immeasurably worse – and that’s not even getting into the creepy sexual exploitation.

Hitler’s Hollywood (Rüdiger Suchsland, 2017). Lots of great clips in this look at the cinema of 1933-1945 Germany, although the movie is very fast-paced and a little hard to track. But maybe that fits the film’s thesis that Nazi cinema was a kind of dream, induced in a willing population; the documentary goes for a disorienting trance state itself. Udo Kier narrates.

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross, 2018). An impressionistic documentary of an Alabama county (coincidentally, the same area James Agee and Walker Evans explored for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), this 76-minute film is something all to its lovely self.

Four Sheets to the Wind (Sterlin Harjo, 2007). Debut feature by the Native American filmmaker who also did the excellent Barking Water (2009). It may be low-budget and awkwardly acted at times, but it’s one of those movies that strongly convey the sense that somebody around here knows how to tell stories.

Bohemian Wildlife (This Week’s Movies)

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Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould: Wildlife (courtesy IFC Films)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Bohemian Rhapsody. “Has a dutiful, respectable air about it.” (Herald link here.)

Wildlife. “While it has a formal visual style, as though emphasizing how trapped its characters are, it really comes alive in the energy between the performers onscreen.”

For Scarecrow Video’s blog, I submit a Seasoned Ticket session that looks back at Jim Jarmusch’s early work. Read it here.